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the cambridge companion to


LEVINAS

Each volume in this series of companions to major philoso-


phers contains specially commissioned essays by an inter-
national team of scholars, together with a substantial bibli-
ography, and will serve as a reference work for students and
non-specialists. One aim of the series is to dispel the intim-
idation such readers often feel when faced with the work of
a difficult and challenging thinker.
Emmanuel Levinas is now widely recognized alongside
Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty and Sartre as one of the most im-
portant Continental philosophers of the twentieth century.
His abiding concern was the primacy of the ethical relation
to the other person and his central thesis was that ethics is
first philosophy. His work has also had a profound impact
on a number of fields outside philosophy such as theology,
Jewish studies, literature and cultural theory, psychother-
apy, sociology, political theory, international relations the-
ory and critical legal theory. This volume contains overviews
of Levinas’s contribution in a number of fields, and includes
detailed discussions of his early and late work, his relation
to Judaism and Talmudic commentary, and his contributions
to aesthetics and the philosophy of religion.
New readers will find this the most convenient, accessible
guide to Levinas currently available. Advanced students and
specialists will find a detailed conspectus of recent develop-
ments in the interpretation of Levinas.

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The Cambridge Companion to

LEVINAS
Edited by Simon Critchley
University of Essex

and Robert Bernasconi


University of Memphis

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contents

List of contributors page ix


Acknowledgements xii
List of abbreviations xiii
Emmanuel Levinas: a disparate inventory xv
simon critchley
1 Introduction 1
simon critchley
2 Levinas and Judaism 33
hilary putnam
3 Levinas and the face of the other 63
bernhard waldenfels
4 Levinas’s critique of Husserl 82
rudolf bernet
5 Levinas and the Talmud 100
catherine chalier
6 Levinas and language 119
john llewelyn
7 Levinas, feminism and the feminine 139
stella sandford
8 Sincerity and the end of theodicy: three remarks
on Levinas and Kant 161
paul davies

vii

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viii Contents

9 Language and alterity in the thought of Levinas 188


edith wyschogrod
10 The concepts of art and poetry in Emmanuel
Levinas’s writings 206
gerald l. bruns
11 What is the question to which ‘substitution’
is the answer? 234
robert bernasconi
12 Evil and the temptation of theodicy 252
richard j. bernstein
Bibliography 268
Index 282

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contributors

r o b e r t b e r n a s c o n i is Moss Professor of Philosophy at the


University of Memphis. He is co-editor with Simon Critchley of Re-
Reading Levinas and with Adriaan Perperzak and Simon Critchley of
Emmanuel Levinas: Basic Philosophical Writings. He is the author
of two books on Heidegger and of numerous articles on twentieth-
century Continental philosophy and race theory.

r u d o l f b e r n e t is Professor of Philosophy at the University of


Leuven (Belgium) and Director of the Husserl archives. He is the ed-
itor of E. Husserl’s collected works (Husserliana) and of the series
Phaenomenologica (Kluwer). He has published Husserl’s posthu-
mous writings on time and numerous articles in the fields of phe-
nomenology, psychoanalysis and contemporary philosophy. His
books include An Introduction to Husserlian Phenomenology (1993)
and La vie du sujet (1994).

r i c h a r d j . b e r n s t e i n is Vera List Professor of Philosophy and


Chair at the Graduate Faculty, New School University. His recent
books include Freud and the Legacy of Moses, Hannah Arendt and
the Jewish Question, and The New Constellation: the Ethical Polit-
ical Horizon of Modernity/Postmodernity. He is currently writing a
book on radical evil.

g e r a l d l . b r u n s is the William P. and Hazel B. White Professor


of English at the University of Notre Dame. His most recent books
include Maurice Blanchot: the Refusal of Philosophy (1997) and
Tragic Thoughts at the End of Philosophy: Language, Literature, and
Ethical Theory (1999).

ix

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x Contributors

c a t h e r i n e c h a l i e r teaches philosophy at Paris X-Nanterre. Her


main fields are moral philosophy and Jewish thought. She has pub-
lished thirteen books on these subjects and a few translations from
Hebrew. The most recent books she has published are Pour une
morale au-delà du savoir. Kant et Levinas (Albin Michel, 1998)
(a translation into English is about to be published by Cornell
University Press); De l’intranquillité de l’âme (Payot, 1999); L’écoute
en partage. Judaı̈sme et Christianisme (with M. Faessler, Le Cerf,
2001).

s i m o n c r i t c h l e y is Professor of Philosophy and Head of De-


partment at the University of Essex, and Directeur de Programme
at the Collège International de Philosophie, Paris. He is author of
The Ethics of Deconstruction (1992), Very Little . . . Almost Nothing
(1997), Ethics–Politics–Subjectivity (1999), Continental Philosophy:
a Very Short Introduction (2001) and On Humour (2002).

p a u l d a v i e s teaches philosophy at the University of Sussex. Over


the past ten years, he has written many articles on issues in the work
of Levinas, Heidegger, Blanchot and Kant. He is currently researching
for a book on Kant and philosophical continuity, and completing a
monograph on aesthetics.

j o h n l l e w e l y n has been Reader in Philosophy at the University


of Edinburgh and Visiting Professor at the University of Memphis
and Loyola University of Chicago. Among his publications are Be-
yond Metaphysics?, Derrida on the Threshold of Sense, The Middle
Voice of Ecological Conscience, Emmanuel Levinas: the Genealogy
of Ethics, The HypoCritical Imagination and Appositions of Jacques
Derrida and Emmanuel Levinas. He is currently preparing a book to
be entitled Seeing Through God.

h i l a r y p u t n a m is Cogan University Professor Emeritus at


Harvard University. His books include Reason, Truth and History,
Realism with a Human Face, Renewing Philosophy, Words and Life,
Pragmatism and The Threefold Cord: Mind, Body and World.

s t e l l a s a n d f o r d is Lecturer in Modern European Philosophy at


Middlesex University, London. She is the author of The Metaphysics

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Contributors xi

of Love: Gender and Transcendence in Levinas (Continuum, 2000),


and a forthcoming study of Plato and feminist philosophy. She is
a member of the Radical Philosophy editorial collective and the
Women’s Philosophy Review.

b e r n h a r d w a l d e n f e l s is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy


at Ruhr University of Bochum. Some of his writings include
Phänomenologie in Frankreich (1983, 1998); Ordnung in Zwielicht
(1987, in English Order in Twilight, 1996); Antwortregister
(1994); Deutsch-Französische Gedankengänge (1995); Studien zur
Phänomenologie des Fremden, 4 vols. (1997–1999); Das leibliche
Selbst (2000); Verfremdung der Moderne (2001). His research inter-
ests in phenomenology include topics such as life-world, corporeal-
ity, otherness, strangeness and responsivity.

e d i t h w y s c h o g r o d is J. Newton Rayzor Professor of Philoso-


phy and Religious Thought at Rice University. Her works include
An Ethics of Remembering: History, Heterology and the Nameless
Others (1998), Saints and Postmodernism (1990) and Emmanuel
Levinas: the Problem of Ethical Metaphysics (second edn 2000). Her
current research interest is biological and phenomenological theories
of altruism.

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acknowledgements

The editors would like to thank Hilary Gaskin for her editorial guid-
ance and support, Noreen Harburt for all her secretarial help on the
project and especially Stacy Keltner for preparing the bibliography
and getting the manuscript into a state that could be delivered to the
publishers.

xii

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abbreviations

at Alterity and Transcendence


bpw Emmanuel Levinas: Basic Philosophical Writings
bv Beyond the Verse: Talmudic Readings and Lectures
cp Collected Philosophical Papers
deh Discovering Existence with Husserl
df Difficult Freedom: Essays on Judaism
ee Existence and Existents
en Entre Nous: On Thinking-of-the-Other
ei Ethics and Infinity: Conversations with Philippe Nemo
gcm Of God Who Comes to Mind
gdt God, Death, and Time
lr The Levinas Reader
ntr Nine Talmudic Readings
ob Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence
os Outside the Subject
pm ‘The Paradox of Morality’ in The Provocation of Levinas
pn Proper Names
te ‘Transcendence and Evil’ in Collected Philosophical
Papers
ti Totality and Infinity
tihp The Theory of Intuition in Husserl’s Phenomenology
to Time and the Other
tn In the Time of Nations
tro ‘The Trace of the Other’ in Deconstruction in Context
us ‘Useless Suffering’ in The Provocation of Levinas
wes ‘What Would Eurydice Say? / Que dirait Euridice?’
wo ‘Wholly Otherwise’ in Re-Reading Levinas

xiii

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emmanuel levinas:
a disparate inventory
simon critchley∗

‘Cet inventaire disparate est une biographie.’


Levinas, ‘Signature’ in df

1906 On 12 January, born in Kovno (Kaunas), Lithuania (or,


according to the Julian calendar used in the Russian
empire at the time, on 30 December 1905). Eldest of three
brothers: Boris (born in 1909) and Aminadab (born in 1913,
whose name – probably coincidentally – was later the title
of a novel by Maurice Blanchot); both were murdered by
the Nazis. The Levinas family belonged to Kovno’s large
and important Jewish community, where, as Levinas later
recalled, ‘to be Jewish was as natural as having eyes and
ears’. The first language Levinas learned to read was
Hebrew, at home with a teacher, although Russian was
his mother tongue, the language of his formal educa-
tion and remained the language spoken at home through-
out his life. Levinas’s parents spoke Yiddish. As a youth,
Levinas read the great Russian writers, Lermontov, Gogol,
Turgenev, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Pushkin. The last
was the most important influence, and it is these writers
whom Levinas credits with the awakening of his philo-
sophical interests. Shakespeare was also and would remain
an influence on his thinking.
1915–16 During World War I, after the Germans occupied Kovno in
September 1915, the Levinas family became refugees and
moved to Kharkov in Ukraine, after being refused entry
to Kiev. Levinas was one of very few Jews admitted to
the Russian Gymnasium. The Levinas family experienced

xv

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xvi A disparate inventory

the upheavals of the revolutions of February and October


1917.
1920 The Levinas family returned to Lithuania, where Levinas
attended a Hebrew Gymnasium in Kovno.
1923 After initially considering studying in Germany, Levinas
went to the University of Strasbourg in France. When
asked why he chose France, Levinas replied ‘Parce que
c’est l’Europe!’ Bizarrely enough, Strasbourg was appar-
ently chosen because it was the French city closest to
Lithuania. His subjects included classics, psychology and
a good deal of sociology, though he soon came to con-
centrate on philosophy, studying Bergson and Husserl in
particular. In autobiographical reflections, he mentioned
Charles Blondel, Henri Carteron, Maurice Halbwachs and
Maurice Pradines as the four professors who most influ-
enced his thinking. What made a very strong impression
on the young Levinas was the way in which Pradines, who
would later be his thesis supervisor, used the example of
the Dreyfus affair to illuminate the primacy of ethics over
politics.
1926 Beginning of his lifelong friendship with Maurice Blanchot
who arrived in Strasbourg as a student in 1926.
1927 Obtained his Licence in philosophy and thanks to
Gabrielle Pfeiffer began a close study of Husserl’s Logi-
cal Investigations and eventually chose Husserl’s theory
of intuition as his dissertation topic.
1928–9 Spent the academic year in Freiburg, Germany, where he
gave a presentation in Husserl’s last seminar and attended
Heidegger’s first seminar as Husserl’s successor. Levinas
attended Heidegger’s lecture course that has been pub-
lished as Einleitung in die Philosophie [Introduction to
Philosophy] (Klostermann, 1996). His time in Freiburg was
marked by an intense reading of Heidegger’s Being and
Time (1927) to which he was introduced by Jean Héring,
Professor of Protestant Theology at Strasbourg and former
student of Husserl. As Levinas puts it in an interview,

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A disparate inventory xvii

‘I went to Freiburg because of Husserl, but discovered


Heidegger’.
1929 First publication, a review article on Husserl’s Ideas I in
Revue Philosophique de la France et de l’Etranger.
Attended the famous encounter between Heidegger and
Cassirer at Davos that took place between 18 and 30
March, which was actually part of a wider Franco-German
philosophical meeting attended by younger philosophers
such as Jean Cavaillès, Maurice de Gandillac, Eugen Fink
and Rudolf Carnap. At the end of two weeks of discussion,
the Freiburg students organized a satirical soirée where
they re-created the debate. Levinas assumed the role of
Cassirer, allegedly with flour in his abundant black locks
and repeating the words ‘Humboldt Kultur, Humboldt
Kultur’. Cassirer’s wife was apparently offended, and
Levinas later very much regretted this act of mockery.
However, in another version of events, given in a late inter-
view from 1992, Levinas says that he repeated the words
‘I am a pacifist. I am a pacifist’, and that this could be in-
terpreted as some sort of response to Heidegger, who was
present at the soirée.
Returned to Strasbourg, completed and defended his
doctorate, The Theory of Intuition in Husserl’s Phe-
nomenology. On 4 April 1930 it received a prize from
the Institute of Philosophy and was published by Vrin
in Paris later in 1930. It is this work which introduced
Jean-Paul Sartre to phenomenology. As Levinas put it,
with some wry humour, ‘It was Sartre who guaranteed
my place in eternity by stating in his famous obituary es-
say on Merleau-Ponty that he, Sartre “was introduced to
phenomenology by Levinas”.’
1930 Became a French citizen, and performed his military ser-
vice in Paris. Married Raı̈ssa Levi, whom he had known
from schooldays in Kovno. Obtained a teaching position
at the Alliance Israélite Universelle in Paris. Because Lev-
inas did not have the Agrégation in philosophy he could
not apply for a university position or indeed a teaching po-
sition in a lycée. In private conversation, Levinas admitted

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xviii A disparate inventory

that his ignorance of Greek prevented him from sitting


the Agrégation. The Alliance was established in France in
1860 by a group of Jews prominent in French life. They
wished to promote the integration of Jews everywhere as
full citizens within their states, with equal rights and free-
dom from persecution. The Alliance saw itself as having a
civilizing mission through the education of Jews from the
Mediterranean basin (Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Turkey,
Syria) who were not educated in the Western tradition.
1931 He co-translated Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations with a
fellow Strasbourg student Gabrielle Pfeiffer. Levinas was
responsible for the Fourth and Fifth Meditations, which
contain Husserl’s famous discussion of intersubjectivity.
1932 Began work on a book on Heidegger but abandoned it when
Heidegger became committed to National Socialism.
A fragment of the projected book was published as ‘Martin
Heidegger and Ontology’ in 1932, the first article on
Heidegger in French. Levinas wrote in a Talmudic read-
ing from 1963, ‘One can forgive many Germans, but there
are some Germans it is difficult to forgive. It is difficult
to forgive Heidegger.’
1931–2 Participated in the monthly philosophical Saturday
evening soirées of Gabriel Marcel where he met Sartre and
other members of the intellectual avant-garde.
1933 Intermittently attended Kojeve’s famous lectures on Hegel
at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes (1933–7), and met Jean
Hippolyte and others.
Published his only extant original article in Lithuanian,
an intriguing essay called ‘The Notion of Spirituality in
French and German Culture’.
1934 Levinas publishes a fascinating philosophical meditation
on National Socialism, called ‘Some Reflections on the
Philosophy of Hitlerism’, in a special issue of Esprit,
a newly founded French left Catholic journal. It was
republished in 1997 with a study by Miguel Abensour
(Paris: Payot-Rivages).

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A disparate inventory xix

1935 Birth of daughter, Simone, who later trained to become a


doctor.
Publication of Levinas’s first original, thematic essay,
‘De l’évasion’, in Recherches Philosophiques, which rep-
resents his first understated attempt to break free from
Heideggerian ontology. Reissued with an extensive com-
mentary by Jacques Rolland with Fata Morgana publishers
in 1982.
1939 Drafted into the French army, and served as an interpreter
of Russian and German.
1940–5 Taken prisoner of war in Rennes with the Tenth French
Army in June 1940 and held captive there in a Frontstalag
for several months. Levinas was then transferred to a camp
in Fallinpostel, close to Magdeburg in Northern Germany.
Because Levinas was an officer in the French army, he
was not sent to a concentration camp but to a military
prisoners’ camp, where he did forced labour in the forest.
His camp had the number 1492, the date of the expulsion
of the Jews from Spain! The Jewish prisoners were kept
separately from the non-Jews and wore uniforms marked
with the word ‘JUD’. Most members of his family were
murdered by the Nazis during the bloody pogroms that
began in June 1940 with the active and enthusiastic col-
laboration of Lithuanian nationalists. Although it is not
certain, it would appear that his brothers, mother and fa-
ther were shot by Nazis close to Kovno. The names of
close and more distant murdered family members are re-
called in the Hebrew dedication to his second major philo-
sophical work, Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence.
Raı̈ssa and Simone Levinas were initially protected by a
number of brave French friends, notably Suzanne Poirier,
M. and Mme Verduron and Blanchot. It would appear that
Levinas somehow got a message through to Blanchot from
the prison camp in Rennes. Blanchot lent his apartment to
Raı̈ssa and Simone for some time before Simone received
an extremely courageous offer of refuge from the sisters of
a Vincentian convent outside Orléans. Raı̈ssa Levinas was
supported financially throughout the war by the Alliance

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xx A disparate inventory

Israélite Universelle. She stayed in hiding in Paris until


1943 when she joined her daughter, adopting the name
‘Marguerite Bevos’. Raı̈ssa’s mother, Amélia Frieda Levi,
who had been living with the Levinas family before the
war, was deported from Paris and murdered. There exist
carnets de guerre from this period, as yet unpublished.
Levinas vowed never to set foot on German soil again.
1945 Levinas returned to Paris and rejoined his family. Thanks
to the intervention of René Cassin, Levinas became
Director of the Ècole Normale Israélite Orientale (ENIO),
the school established by the Alliance in Paris in 1867 to
train teachers for its schools in the Mediterranean basin.
As a former student of the ENIO points out in a memoir
of Levinas as a teacher, the school was neither normal,
nor truly Israeli nor completely oriental. The ENIO was
located at 59 rue d’Auteuil and later on the rue Michel-
Ange in the 16th arrondissement. The family lived above
the school on the seventh floor, in an apartment in which
they remained until 1980, when they moved to another
apartment on the same street. It should be recalled that
Levinas did not have a university position until 1964 when
he was in his late fifties. Because of his professional po-
sition and his pedagogical commitments, he dedicated a
number of essays to the problems facing Jewish education
and the need for a renaissance of Jewish spirituality after
the catastrophe of the Shoah. This also explains why in
this period Levinas’s growing importance in discussions
of Jewish affairs was not matched by an equal prominence
in philosophical circles. These interests are well reflected
in his 1963 collection, Difficult Freedom. The ENIO corre-
sponded to and fostered the vision of Judaism that Levinas
would defend with increasing vigour in the post-war years:
rigorously intellectual, rooted in textual study, rationalis-
tic, anti-mystical, humanist and universalist. However, it
should be recalled that most of Levinas’s professional life
was spent as a school administrator with extensive and
rather routine responsibilities for the day-to-day welfare of
ENIO students. Levinas took responsibility for Talmudic

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A disparate inventory xxi

study in the ENIO and gave the famous public ‘cours de


Rachi’ on Saturdays which were followed by smaller study
groups where Levinas would as readily discuss Dostoevsky
or an article in Le Monde as a Judaic theme.
1945–80 Although they met before the war in 1937, after the war
Levinas developed a very close friendship with Henri
Nerson, a doctor who lived near the Levinas family and
with whom he had daily contact. It was Nerson who in-
troduced Levinas to the enigmatic Monsieur Chouchani,
his eventual teacher and maı̂tre, with whom he studied
Talmud and who renewed his interest in Judaism. Nerson
died in Israel in 1980 and in an interview from 1987,
Levinas said ‘I miss him every day’.
1946–7 Levinas was invited by his good friend and supporter
Jean Wahl, Professor of Philosophy at the Sorbonne (the
1961 book Totality and Infinity was dedicated to Jean
and Marcelle Wahl) to give four lectures at the Collège
Philosophique. Time and the Other was published in 1948
in a collective volume and reappeared in 1979 as a separate
volume with a revealing new preface. The initial publica-
tion was famously criticized by Simone de Beauvoir in the
preface to The Second Sex for its understanding of the fem-
inine as the other to the masculine. These lectures express
many of the core ideas of Levinas’s later work, the central-
ity of the other, and the claim that time determines the
relation between the other and oneself.
1947–9 Studied Talmud, in its original languages, Hebrew and
Aramaic, with Monsieur Chouchani, who is the ‘master’
whom Levinas frequently mentions in his Talmudic com-
mentaries. Chouchani actually lived with the Levinas
family in their apartment during this period and
Emmanuel effectively stopped writing philosophy in order
to concentrate on Talmudic study. One should not under-
estimate the great influence that Chouchani exerted over
Levinas and the great affection that he inspired among his
students, another of whom was Elie Wiesel. Chouchani
died in South America in 1968 at the moment of the

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publication of Quatres Lectures Talmudiques, Levinas’s


first collection of Talmudic essays. The reader of Levinas’s
commentaries will realize that he does his own transla-
tions of the passages chosen for discussion.
1947 Publication of his first original book, De l’existence à
l’existant [Existence and Existents] which had been writ-
ten in captivity during the war. The book was published
by Georges Blin in Editions de la Revue Fontaine after
being refused by Gallimard. In contradistinction to the in-
tellectual context of the libération dominated by the ex-
istentialism of Sartre and Camus, the book was published
with a red banner around it with the words ‘où il ne s’agit
pas d’angoisse’ (‘where it is not a question of anxiety’). In
1946, Levinas had published a fragment of this book under
the title ‘Il y a’, in the first issue of a new journal called
Deucalion founded by Jean Wahl. The il y a is Levinas’s
name for the nocturnal horror of existence prior to the
emergence of consciousness. Levinas later called the il y a,
the ‘morceau de résistance’ in this book. The original
publication appeared with the dedication P. A. E., which
means ‘Pour Andrée Eliane’, the daughter born to the
Levinases after the war who lived for just a few months.
1948 ‘Reality and its Shadow’, Levinas’s controversial critique
of art, published in Les Temps Modernes, with a criti-
cal prefatory note, possibly written by Merleau-Ponty or
Sartre.
Publication of Discovering Existence with Husserl and
Heidegger, a collection of pre-war and unpublished pieces
on phenomenology. It was reissued in a second edition in
1967 with a number of important new essays added, such
as ‘Language and Proximity’.
1949 Birth of son, Michaël, now a recognized composer, con-
cert pianist and Professor of Musical Analysis at the Paris
Conservatory.
1951 ‘Is Ontology Fundamental?’ is published in Revue de
Métaphysique et de Morale. It is here, finally, that Levinas
makes explicit his critique of Heidegger in ethical terms.

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1952 First visit to Israel, where he later returned to give papers


in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but where he was not
really recognized as an original thinker.
1956 Elected Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur.
1957 ‘Philosophy and the Idea of Infinity’ published in Revue
de Métaphysique et de Morale. This essay is the best
overview of Levinas’s work in the 1950s, anticipating
many of the theses of Totality and Infinity, and develop-
ing Levinas’s appropriation of the concept of infinity from
Descartes.
Co-founder of the Colloque des intellectuels juifs de
langue française, which met annually and with which
Levinas was closely involved until the early 1990s. The
idea of this meeting was to reconstitute the French intel-
lectual Jewish community after the war by identifying the
links between contemporary social, political and philo-
sophical issues and the Jewish tradition.
1960 Begins giving Talmudic commentaries as the concluding
address of the yearly meetings of the Colloque des intellec-
tuels juifs de langue française, a habit he continued until
1991. Far from being devotional exercises, these commen-
taries often see Levinas using the Talmud to discuss the
intellectual and political events of the time. As well as ex-
emplifying a highly rationalistic hermeneutic approach,
inspired by Chouchani, the commentaries are also note-
worthy for their informality and for their often wry hu-
mour. For example, his 1972 commentary, ‘Et Dieu créa
la femme’, alludes to Roger Vadim’s 1957 film, starring
Brigitte Bardot.
1961 Totality and Infinity published in Holland by Martinus
Nijhoff publishers as part of their famous Phaenomenolo-
gica series, under the patronage of the Husserl archives in
Leuven and with the crucial support of Father Herman Leo
Van Breda. Its principal thesis is described below in the in-
troduction. With the encouragement and crucial support
of Jean Wahl, Levinas presented this book as the main
thesis for his doctorat d’état, while a collection of his

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xxiv A disparate inventory

previously published philosophical works was accepted


as a complementary thesis. In addition to Wahl, Vladimir
Jankélévitch, Gabriel Marcel, Paul Ricœur and Georges
Blin were members of the jury, which was also due to in-
clude Merleau-Ponty, who died one month prior to the
soutenance. Although this is not widely known, Totality
and Infinity was not originally intended as a thesis, but as
an independent book. Levinas had given up the idea of sub-
mitting a thesis and only renewed the idea at the prompt-
ing of Jean Wahl after the manuscript had been refused
for publication by Brice Parain at Gallimard in 1960. An
English translation of Totality and Infinity by Alphonso
Lingis appeared in 1969.
1961–2 Publication of three texts by Blanchot in La Nouvelle
Revue Française more or less directly inspired by Totality
and Infinity: ‘Connaissance de l’inconnu’, ‘Tenir parole’
and ‘Être juif’.
1962 Shortly after the publication of Totality and Infinity,
Levinas was invited by Jean Wahl to speak to the Société
Française de Philosophie, where he presented ‘Transcen-
dence and Height’, a very useful summary of the early ar-
guments of the book from an epistemological perspective.
1963 Publication of Difficult Freedom, a very important collec-
tion of Levinas’s writings on Jewish topics, dedicated to
Henri Nerson. Besides the essays on Jewish education, the
volume contains a wide assortment of observations and
polemics on contemporary issues and figures, and includes
Levinas’s first Talmudic commentaries, which deal with
messianic themes. It also contains ‘Signature’, Levinas’s
elliptical but revealing autobiographical reflections.
1964 Appointed Professor of Philosophy at the University
of Poitiers. His colleagues included Mikel Dufrenne,
Roger Garaudy, Jacques D’Hondt and Jeanne Delhomme.
Levinas remained Director of the ENIO until 1980 but
delegated more and more of the administrative tasks. It
is widely thought that Levinas was appointed to Poitiers
in 1961, which is not true. He was also unsuccessful in a

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candidature for a professorship at the University of Lille


because of the opposition of Eric Weil, who appointed
Henri Birault instead of Levinas.
‘Meaning and Sense’ published in Revue de Méta-
physique et de Morale, which, via an interesting debate
with Merleau-Ponty and the question of decolonization,
shows the beginnings of the philosophical transition from
Totality and Infinity to Otherwise than Being. It is here
that the notion of the trace and the critique of the idea of
presence, so important for Jacques Derrida’s work, makes
its appearance in Levinas.
Publication of Derrida’s ‘Violence and Metaphysics’ in
two parts in Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale. It was
republished in a slightly revised form in the 1967 volume,
Writing and Difference. It is worth pointing out that this
essay – effectively a monograph – was one of Derrida’s first
essays, and would for a long time be the most extensive
discussion of Levinas’s work.
1965 Member of the committee of direction for ‘l’Amitié Judéo-
Chrétienne de France’. The topic of Jewish–Christian
friendship would preoccupy Levinas in his later writings.
1967 Appointed Professor of Philosophy at the newly estab-
lished University of Paris-Nanterre, where his colleagues
included Dufrenne, Paul Ricœur and Jean-François
Lyotard in philosophy and Alain Touraine, Henri Lefebvre
and the young Jean Baudrillard in sociology.
‘Substitution’ given as one of two lectures in Brussels
in November and published in the Revue Philosophique
de Louvain in 1968. The text expresses the core idea of
Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence, namely the idea
of the subject as hostage, where responsibility to the other
is seen as something interior to the self. The original ver-
sion, contained in Basic Philosophical Writings, is easier
to follow than the more developed version published in
the 1974 book.
1968 Quatre lectures talmudiques (contained in Nine Talmu-
dic Readings in English) published by Jérôme Lindon in

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xxvi A disparate inventory

Editions de Minuit, as were all of Levinas’s subsequent


‘confessional’ writings.
Although Levinas distanced himself from the events of
1968, where his friend Ricœur, at that point Dean of Fac-
ulty at Nanterre, was obliged to bring in the police to pro-
tect the campus in 1969, Levinas responded philosophi-
cally to the events of 1968 and to the anti-humanism of
structuralist and post-structuralist thought in ‘Human-
ism and Anarchy’ (1968) and ‘No Identity’ (1970), both
contained in Collected Philosophical Papers. A fascinat-
ing Talmudic response to Marxism and student radicalism
can be found in ‘Judaism and revolution’ (1969), contained
in Nine Talmudic Readings.
1970 Awarded an honorary doctorate at Loyola University of
Chicago, on the same day as Hannah Arendt, which was
the only time they met, and where Levinas was some-
what perplexed by the enthusiasm with which Arendt
joined in the singing of the American national anthem.
Honorary doctorates followed from the universities of
Leiden, Holland (1975), Leuven, Belgium (1976), Fribourg,
Switzerland (1980) and Bar-Ilan, Israel (1981).
Appointed to a visiting professorship at the University
of Fribourg, where he taught for short periods for many
years.
1971 Awarded the Albert Schweitzer philosophy prize.
1972 Humanisme de l’autre homme.
1973 Appointed Professor of Philosophy at the Sorbonne (Paris
IV) and became honorary professor after his retirement
in 1976. He continued his seminar at the Sorbonne until
1980. His colleagues included Ferdinand Alquié, Henri
Birault, Pierre Aubenque and Jacques Rivelaygue.
1974 Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence published by
Nijhoff. English translation by Alphonso Lingis in 1981.
Its principal innovations are discussed below in the intro-
duction. Many commentators claim that this is Levinas’s
most important philosophical work; it is certainly his
most difficult.

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Publication of first book-length study of Levinas in


English, by Edith Wyschogrod: Emmanuel Levinas: the
Problem of Ethical Metaphysics (The Hague: Nijhoff).
Elected Officier de l’ordre national du Mérite in
November.
1975 Sur Maurice Blanchot, a collection of three articles and a
conversation about his great friend.
1976 Proper Names, a very interesting and accessible collec-
tion of short articles on Agnon, Buber, Celan, Delhomme,
Derrida, Jabès, Lacroix, Laporte, Picard, Proust, van Breda
and Wahl.
1977 Du sacré au saint. Cinq nouvelles lectures talmudiques
(contained in Nine Talmudic Readings in English).
1980 Textes pour Emmanuel Levinas published (Paris: Jean-
Michel Place), with important contributions by Blanchot,
Derrida, Edmond Jabès, Jean-François Lyotard, Paul
Ricœur and others.
Levinas met Jean-Paul II, during the Pope’s visit to Paris
in May. The Pope (Karol Wojtyla) wrote a thesis on the
phenomenologist Max Scheler in 1959 and had strong
interests in the relation of phenomenological ethics to
Christian metaphysics. In 1980, Levinas wrote an article
on ‘The Philosophical Thought of Cardinal Wojtyla’.
Along with other philosophers, Levinas took part in con-
ferences at Castel Gandolfo, the Papal summer residence,
at which the Pope presided, in 1983 and 1985, giving the
paper ‘Transcendence and Intelligibility’ on the occasion
of the second conference.
1982 Beyond the Verse, a collection of five Talmudic commen-
taries and a very interesting series of texts on Judaism,
Zionism and politics.
Of God Who Comes to Mind published by Vrin, an
important collection of essays, which makes explicit
the more theological orientation of Levinas’s later work.
This can best be seen in ‘God and Philosophy’, from
1975, which is a wide-ranging essay that better than any
other provides a powerful summary of Levinas’s mature

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xxviii A disparate inventory

thought. The book was awarded the Charles-Lévêque


prize.
Ethics and Infinity, a series of conversations with
Philippe Nemo, originally broadcast on French radio.
Highly illuminating, they provide an excellent review and
entry point to Levinas’s work.
1983 Awarded the Karl Jaspers prize in Heidelberg which
Michaël Levinas accepted on his father’s behalf because
of Levinas’s vow never to enter Germany after the war.
1984 ‘Transcendence and Intelligibility’ published, providing a
concise and useful summary of Levinas’s later thinking.
It can profitably be read alongside his other attempts to
provide an overview and a point of entry to his thinking.
1985 Elected Commandeur des Arts et Lettres in April.
1986 A ten-day conference or ‘decade’ at Cerisy-la-Salle, orga-
nized by Jean Greisch and Jacques Rolland, published by
Editions du Cerf in 1993.
Face to Face with Levinas, edited by Richard A. Cohen,
an important collection of articles on Levinas, with many
useful translations.
1987 Collected Philosophical Papers published in English,
translated and introduced by Alphonso Lingis.
At the invitation of Miguel Abensour, President of the
Collège International de Philosophie, Levinas presents
‘Dying For’. This is a wonderfully measured paper on
Heidegger given at the hysterical height of the Heidegger
affair in Paris, when many intellectuals were caught up
in the scandal over Heidegger’s political commitment to
National Socialism. Derrida presented an early version
of his Of Spirit at the same meeting. This was only the
second time that Levinas had given a public lecture on
Heidegger, the first being at Jean Wahl’s seminar at the
Sorbonne early in 1940.
Outside the Subject, a late collection of philosophical
papers, with interesting pieces on Husserl.
1988 The Hour of Nations published, in a similar format to
Beyond the Verse, with five Talmudic readings, and a

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series of theological writings touching in particular on the


relation of Judaism to Christianity and essays on Moses
Mendelssohn and Franz Rosenzweig.
1991 Entre Nous: On Thinking-of-the-Other published, a col-
lection of Levinas’s papers and interviews with some very
important early pieces such as ‘Is Ontology Fundamental?’
and ‘Ego and Totality’.
Publication of the Cahier de l’Herne, on Levinas, edited
by Catherine Chalier and Miguel Abensour. In addition to
important studies of Levinas’s work, it contains unpub-
lished original texts by Levinas, and the transcription by
Jacques Rolland of his final lecture course at the Sorbonne,
‘Dieu, la mort et le temps’.
Elected Officier de la Légion d’honneur.
1994 Les imprévus de l’histoire published, a collection of pre-
viously published journal articles, including important
pieces such as Levinas’s first publications on Husserl, and
his critique of art, ‘Reality and its Shadow’.
1995 Alterity and Transcendence published, a collection of oc-
casional texts, encyclopaedia entries and interviews.
Night of 24–5 December, death in Paris after a long
struggle with illness. The funeral oration, ‘Adieu’, was
given by Jacques Derrida at the interment on 28
December.
1996 New Talmudic Readings published just a few weeks after
Levinas’s death, containing three Talmudic readings, from
1974, 1988 and 1989.
Basic Philosophical Writings published.
December, Hommage to Levinas, organized by Danielle
Cohen-Levinas and the Collège International de Philoso-
phie in the Amphithéâtre Richelieu at the Sorbonne.

note

I would like to thank Michaël Levinas, Catherine Chalier, Miguel
Abensour and Robert Bernasconi for their help in confirming and adding
facts to this chronological table. Certain facts have been taken from
a number of sources: Adriaan Peperzak’s preface to Emmanuel Lev-
inas: Basic Philosophical Writings, Anette Aronowicz’s introduction to

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xxx A disparate inventory

Nine Talmudic Readings, Marie-Anne Lescourret’s Emmanuel Levinas


(Paris: Flammarion 1994), François Poirié’s Emmanuel Levinas (Arles:
Actes Sud, 1996 [1987]), L’arche. Le mensuel du judaı̈sme français, 459
(February 1996), Emmanuel Levinas. Philosophe et pédagogue (Paris:
Alliance Israélite Universelle, 1998) and Roger Burggraeve’s Emmanuel
Levinas. Une bibliographie primaire et secondaire (1929–1985) (Leuven:
Peeters, 1986).

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